Monday, June 22, 2009

citizen of the whirl

Innocent Abroad

To be a guest is to be grateful. Sincerely thankful, like a
stranger in a strange land, yet somehow at home. Or
hypocritically grateful: putting on the front that
contributes to civilization and good manners.

Hypocrisy has its function. When the fourth course is
served in a hot room in mid-afternoon after days of travel
and tourism (twenty-eight hours from Charlotte to Moscow,
elaborate dining at the third floor flat of our Moscow hosts,
mid-night on Red Square, three hours of sleep shared with
an adenoidal fellow traveler, morning visit at a vocational
school, eight courses at the Praga Restaurant just off Arbut
Square where gypsies begged for bubble-gum and milk
money and one small boy clung to my calf like a koala,
an official meeting at School 50 with the vice-superintendent
of the Moscow Education Committee to plan exchanges,
late-afternoon cafeteria refreshments served by students
who gave us pennants and medals, grand prix driving through
Moscow’s commuter traffic to a one-ring circus where we
watched horse-acts, pig and cow acts, clown-acts, acrobatics,
promenades before returning to our hosts and another
elaborate meal, a short sleep, a full breakfast, and Aeroflot to
Adler near the Black Sea where we are bussed to an Armenian
free-enterprise restaurant so that when the third or fourth
course is proffered, I believe the bread-trout winked a yellowed
eye at me: hypocrisy is a virtue, a liberal art those liberated by
the disequilibrium of rapid travel lagged through time and space
and culture can practice convincingly. Some of us furrowed our
brows, glanced upwards or rolled our eyes, pinched off a piece
of dry bread to keep chewing.

This was the real celebration: representatives of the two sister
towns—Black Mountain and Krasnaya Polyana—goatherd to
toast and eat food together, marking the start of the third visit
in Russia of “our American friends,’ the secretary Svetlana,
logistics supervisor Mikael, assistants Victor and Tetanya,
translator Yuri and his wife; the bus driver, Victor; the Sochi
representative from the larger district of Krasnador—all
welcomed the eight of us around a large table in a small room
with a window the size of a Kleenex box.

Our group (captained by Tom, the dentist; inter-culturally
credentialed by Ken, the Buncombe Schools grants writer;’
free-enterprised by Travis, business man, and architectural
consultant, educationally represented by Sam, college
English teacher, Linda, third-grade teacher, and Fred,
high-school principal) was dependent to a degree on the
combined linguistic capacity of our two younger travelers:
Sara, a rising senior in our local high school, and Juli, an
upcoming fresh person at the University of North Carolina.
Both studied Russian the preceding nine months and were
the only ones in our group with an introduction to the

No comments:

Post a Comment